I've never been one for romanticizing my runs. I've liked running since I was on the cross country team in high school, and I've done it as exercise ever since, at times much more frequently than others, including running two 20K road races and one true half-marathon.
But I've never, like, rhapsodized about how good a long run makes me feel, or talked at length about the beauty of a route I designed, like J does. He really enjoys the whole ordeal, speaking poetically about the part where he got to the industrial park and was pretty tired but then found new energy by the time he reached the shoreline! And then when he gets home he makes himself a chocolate milk for recovery and stretches out on the front steps for awhile. Then he remembers some new details and I can't help myself. "Really?" I ask. "Are we talking about your run again?"
I'm more of a utilitarian runner. I like doing it because it's a form of exercise that can begin as soon as I step out my front door, without having to drive to a gym or schedule a class. I can listen to loud music that I'm embarrased to admit I like, and escape for awhile.
I like it, I do, but mostly because it gets the job done, providing physical and mental well being in an efficient manner. I often don't know where I'm headed when I go out for a run, and if I need to run a certain number of miles, might simply run half of them in one direction, then make my way back home.
This summer, though, while training for the New Haven Road Race - the annual Labor Day 20K that I've now done twice - I decided that for the ten-mile run scheduled as part of my training plan towards the end of August, I'd run the entire circumference of Southport Island, which is the island in Maine - just a few steps off the mainland, really - where my parents spend summers and we go for frequent visits.
I'd run it once before a few summers ago, this perfect, if hilly, ten-mile loop, an alternating pattern of woodsy stretches followed by the picturesque New England inlets: a sailboat; a rocky outcrop; hearty Northerners taking a morning zip in the frigid Atlantic. It's somewhat challenging geographically, with a few steep uphills and uneven terrain, and the scenery's gorgeous. I'd been running stretches of Southport's one, two-lane road the entire summer, but running the whole thing, from point A and all the way around til you reach the place you started, that's different. It's a run you can talk about. Even me.
And once I got going on this summer's Southport run - I can't believe I'm even writing this sentence - it was magic. Some of my prior runs which involved doing long distance on particularly muggy summer days were rough going towards the end; I had to really talk myself into logging those last couple miles.
But this one - maybe it's because I turned off my Nike running app, knowing the distance was exactly what I needed it to be; or maybe it was the fact that I didn't listen to music for almost the entire run, instead deciding to enjoy the opportunity for quiet thinking, something I almost never associate with exercise; or maybe it was simply because I ate exactly the right things before heading out and drank exactly the right amount of water during - whatever the case, I felt great.
And when I finished, sweaty and achey but exhilirated, I wanted to tell somebody about it. So I texted J, "Ran Southport!" expecting him to write back clamoring for details, which he didn't do because he was on a trip with friends, brewery-hopping in Colorado, and also, kinda like with dreams, nobody wants to go over the details of your run except you.
That might be for the best, though. In this life with our three young children, lone experiences are hard to come by. I can't even go to the bathroom without someone knocking on the door to tell me something VERY IMPORTANT and I'm not one of those people who relishes the solitude of night, after everyone has gone to sleep. Nighttime is for sleeping, guys.
Running, though. A space reserved for my own thoughts if I want it. My loud music if I'm ready to take on the world, but the rhythmic sound of my feet hitting pavement an option if I'm going for that peculiar form of meditation only runners know. I used to silently make fun of people when they'd talk about that idea, but making my way around Southport this summer, I truly got it; a summer goal turned into an experience I won't forget, but even better, an experience I'll draw on next time I'm feeling overwhelmed, or tired, or I need some time to think. Just outside my front door.
This summer has been a whirlwind, as summers often are, this year made slightly more insane by trips to and from my parents' place in Maine, which means logging many hours in the car.
Thankfully, these are hours I don't regret because we've gotten memorable long summer weekends out of these trips, and Nora and Gabriel, thanks to my generous parents, have gotten a few full weeks in Maine and valuable time with their grandparents, even when I've had to come back home.
Adriana has become an expert road tripper along the way, although she's much more into frequent stops and much less into podcasts than I am.
We'll be headed back up this weekend for one more Maine adventure before we acknowledge some of the looming responsibilities ahead; school, a regular work schedule and not eating dessert every day (probably). There's a lot to think about in terms of scheduling and general logistics but I think that for this one last weekend I'm going to forget all that and concentrate on lobster and sitting poolside and trying to get my almost one-year-old into enticing interview radio shows as we cover all that familiar road once again.
As I mentioned when I listed my summer goals, the main thing with reading is that I used to do it all the time, but in recent years, I haven't done it as often as I'd like. People still think I do, asking me for book recommendations and recommending books to me, and I still list it as one of the top loves of my life, but in practice, I'm fading. And this summer I wanted to kick myself back into gear.
And I meant it. So, like I said, several weeks ago I picked up "TransAtlantic," - the book I have been reading for almost THE ENTIRETY of my youngest child's life - and decided it was time to re-engage. And guys, it was so good. It was getting even better than it had been. All the connections coming into place. All the character developments.
Then, one night when I was up at my family's place in Maine, I was nursing the baby one evening, got a little bored, and looked around for something - anything - within reach. That turned out to be the John Grisham novel, "The Confession," which, like all of his books, was immediately engaging and suspenseful, and I was hooked within minutes, tossing the beautiful "TransAtlantic" to the side, once again.
Then. A book club I'm part of decided we'd read the new Judy Blume novel "In the Unlikely Event," and so I sped-read that for the few days preceding the meeting.
And then also, J and I started watching the HBO documentary miniseries, "The Jinx." Have you guys seen that? Like, wait a second, his defense was that he chopped up that guy because he didn't want to alert anybody to his presence in Texas because he was being bullied by the law enforcement and media? And that was the easiest way to deal with that situation? Chop up a guy???
Anyway, point being, I'm not finishing books left and right, and I'm especially not finishing "TransAtlantic." But reading in general? Yes. Scouring the bookshelves for titles I can't wait to get my hands on? Yes! Thinking about buying other books, like Mindy Kaling's "Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?" because I am super into autobiographies by funny females, even though we have no space anywhere in this crowded house to put new books? That's right.
In other words: check.
My decluttering plans aren't particularly original. I'm simply joining the throngs of other Americans determined to get rid of their excess stuff and enjoy the rewards of a more organized and pleasant home. There is no shortage of advice - in the form of articles, blog posts, television segments, you name it - about tackling this daunting project.
I wouldn't say discarding unused items is particularly difficult for me, although I have a few weak spots: I tend to keep clothes that, if I'm honest with myself, I won't wear again, and that goes for shoes and handbags, too. I get a little sentimental about the kids' toys and their clothes, because I think about the people who gave them as presents, and specific times they wore this or that. But I can get past it, and passing on loved, quality items to someone we know, rather than donating them, helps.
Paper items are not a problem. I could easily scale down the kids' artwork (so much artwork) as it comes through the door each day, but I know J likes to go through it more carefully, so I don't. I'd throw away bills and most other paperwork on the spot, too, but he wouldn't like that. J's gotten so much better, though. I think even he would admit that he used to keep a good deal of useless things around, but has turned a corner and is lately purging stuff with glee.
The problem, at this point in our lives, isn't the desire to keep everything, and it's definitely not that we purchase lots of material things. It's that children in particular bring a multitude of items into the home on a nearly daily basis (goody bags and paintings and indefinable knick knacks, like the purple, fabric flower that Nora had tucked into her dress yesterday when I picked her up, a treasured gift from a dear friend) and it's hard to find the time to dispose of it.
It's the time. It's the stuff coming into our house vs. hours we have to deal with that stuff. If I was ruthless, I'd grab my kids' backpacks and deal with it that very afternoon, every day, without fail. But I'm not ruthless. And I'm also a little worn down in the afternoons. That combination means I almost never deal with that issue on the spot.
The rest of my daytime hours are simply very precious lately. I hate even typing this lame and soul crushing statement but...we have a lot of domestic chores. Repeated acts like filling and emptying the dishwasher, laundry and ensuring everyone, including our now-mobile and insatiable nine-month old, eats three times a day. There are the dogs, that need to be walked and given expensive medications in tricky ways and cleaned up after, which would be much easier if Cecilia relieved herself in a more manageable fashion, and not in, like, 17 different spots, requiring you to follow her around with a plastic bag for about ten minutes.
The point being that when I do have a few hours to spare, I try to write, or maybe pitch an article idea to someone. Sometimes I catch up on "Game of Thrones." But I don't generally tackle a decluttering project.
This summer, though, I want to tackle them all. I really do.
To speed this effort along, J brought home this book the other day:
This book has certainly gotten it's fair share of public love and I'd read a fair amount about Marie Kondo and her intense style of decluttering before he bought it.
I'd even tried out her method in the kids' room; I dumped all of their clothes on the floor - all of them - creating a pile that extended higher than their beds. Then I put back only the items that made me happy. As silly as this sounds, it's very fulfilling in practice. I stored the winter items that would still fit next year and packed girls' clothes that were now too small for Nora in labeled bins in the basement. I ended up with several bags to donate. The closet was immediately far less packed and far more accessible. Their drawers were no longer filled to the brim.
I immediately wanted to do this in the rest of the house but I had to calm myself down. Decluttering is a great feeling when you have the time for it. But when you get overzealous and you suddenly realize you have a minute until you're scheduled to be picking your child up from preschool, it backfires.
That's why I haven't opened up this magical book yet. I know I'm going to get very excited and want to plunge right in without forethought or planning, which are not my strong suits. So I'm trying to approach this whole project in a reasonable way, which I think Ms. Kondo would appreciate.
Also, in an effort to take inspiration from the general public, I'd like to know your decluttering tips, dear six or seven readers? How do you do it? Do you do it? Is it worth it? What sort of cocktail do you make after you try and declutter and then you get sidelined and the whole thing is an utter failure? What types of storage bins do you use? And what do you have the hardest time letting go of?
One of the things I love most about J is his knack for picking up new hobbies. Some of them, like bird watching, have become real hobbies, tried and true, which are now woven into the structure of our lives.
If I see something unusual fly overhead while I'm driving, for instance, I'm excited to tell him about it. The birds in question are almost universally categorized by me as "maybe a cool hawk," which is not a description he can really work with, but still, I like connecting with one of his interests, even if it's on a very basic, possibly annoying level.
And I love watching our children observe and absorb these interests: Nora's new love for wildlife and Gabriel's ability to identify so many of the Star Wars characters. All three of them memorizing facts about the planets and schooling me when I suggest things - in jest, please note - like how it would be fun to live on Saturn. "Um, live on Saturn? We wouldn't be able to breathe."
But what about my own hobbies? I've certainly touched on the idea in the past that since having children, I've let my own interests slip away a bit. The difference between making that realization today and making that realization a few years ago, as a newer mom, is that I'm much more ok with it now.
I'm fine with the fact that I'm an addicted to talk radio, and haven't anxiously purchased the latest from a favorite band in a long time. I'm ok with the fact that I don't write as often as I used to on this blog.
I also realize how easy it is to let yourself slip away when you have young children and more importantly, I realize that if you don't work at it a little, you won't get those interests back.
Guys. I used to read all the time. From the time I could read, I read voraciously. The Babysitter's Club. The Saddle Club ( as an adolescent, I was super into horses, and obviously extremely cool as well). John Steinbeck. Thomas Wolfe. Emerson (even beyond the assignments in class!). Thoreau. Tolstoy. That book "Siddhartha" by Herman Hesse that my friend Matt made me read. Just for fun.
I read at night when I should have been sleeping, and made notes in my books and reread my favorites. "The Catcher in the Rye." "Cannery Row." Countless times.
I've always read, and always finished what I've started: novels, biographies, books of essays, whatever. But then I had my first child. The reading slowed down a little, because I was tired. I could barely get through a couple sentences at night within passing out. Then I had two children and it slowed down a little more. I read mysteries set in Italy - sticking to that one genre which includes, strangely, many authors and titles - and didn't stray much from my comfort zone for a while, although occasionally I'd find the time to devour something popular. A page turner. Preferably funny. "Gone Girl" (not at all funny but couldn't put it down). "Bossypants" by Tina Fey and "Yes Please" by Amy Poehler (I laughed out loud).
So, yeah, I read, but not like I used to. In recent years, I've started books and then misplaced them. I've gone months without turning a page. I've been reading the beautiful "TransAtlantic" by Colum McCann since last summer. Last summer. I pack it in my suitcase when I'm on trips, like, "Oh, reading? I read!" then opt for a magazine, or watching shows (so many shows) on J's iPad in bed.
Like I said, I'm ok with these new habits. I have three little kids, and viewing the entirety of "30 Rock" over the past few months before drifting off to sleep every night was exactly what I needed to unwind at day's end.
But like the other thing I said, sometimes you have to work to preserve the hobbies that make you...you. I want my children to know that version of me, too.
Nora's very into reading as I mentioned in my last post, and the other night she expressed some frustration because she'd finished all the Junie B. Jones books she owned, and told me, "I have other books I can read, but I'm used to those books, so I don't want to read something else." I knew exactly what she was talking about and told her so. It was a moment of total familiarity. I've never been much for playing on the playground or cartoons or board games, but helping my child get excited about a new book? Yes. I was overjoyed.
Plus, I want to finish "TransAtlantic." I mean, come on! So the other morning while I sipped coffee and it would have been very easy to grab my phone for some mindless internet wandering, I pulled the book from my bedside table, found my place and started reading. Then I flipped back 20 pages because I had no idea what was going on and needed to refresh my memory.
Anyway, if you've stuck with me for all these paragraphs, I should get to the point, which is that this summer I want to read. That's only one of many summer goals, and it's not a very specific one (no, I'm not putting "Ulysses" on the list this year although you never know). But it speaks to a general theme of getting back into old hobbies, and nurturing new ones.
Now, I realize that it's not technically summer yet, and the geek brigade that resides in this house with me would probably scold me on that point, but it's summer enough. The barbecues have begun and we've turned on the ceiling fans. The bugs are proliferating in the backyard and the children are playing in the backyard and screaming about the bugs. Summer of 2015. Let's go.
- grow a patio garden
- become a confident martini-maker
- dance at weddings
- pick berries, make jam
- run the circumference of Southport Island
- plan a tenth wedding anniversary trip
- see the (not real) bear in Maine (courtesy of Gabriel)
- find a piano teacher for Nora
- spend far less energy on snacks and much more on meals
- start learning Spanish
- toast the sunset
- regularly use my jogging stroller
- have chocolate chip pancakes and bacon on a weekend morning
- cold beers with good friends
- take a museum tour
- frame a family photo
- get in the ocean
For the past few months I have been explaining to other parents that six-year-olds are like a treat for the countless, labor-intensive hours you've spent during all those months prior taking care of helpless, tiny creatures.
They're cute, yes, very little children. So cute, and I'm enjoying every moment of Adriana's babyhood in a way I didn't really know was possible, don't get me wrong. Now eight months, she is opinionated about the things she wants (all the food, and my iced coffee, and the toys that her older siblings very specifically does not want her to touch). She is babbling and flirting with everybody who so much as glances as her. I absolutely adore her, and am desperately clinging, as well, to the remnants of Gabriel's early years; the dimpled elbows that will soon be history.
But Nora! Nora has entered stage of youth that is delightful in completely new ways for me and J. She started first grade an uncertain reader, then - seemingly overnight - morphed into a total bookworm, with a basket of favorite titles by her bed sorted into varying piles. After our nightly bedtime ritual with them, Gabriel falls asleep quickly, but she flips on her little booklight and reads to herself for awhile.
She has myriad interests and hobbies that materialize in an instant. And she's cocky about her successes and expanding knowledge, but in a completely unassuming fashion, so it's endearing, rather than annoying, the way it can be with adults. "Well, I'm done with another Junie B. book," she'll tell us in a mock-disappointed tone that she doesn't quite pull off, as she's clearly dying for us to comment on her outstanding speed-reading skills.
The other day, scanning a nature guide about monkeys from the backseat of the car, she asked me my favorite kind, and I responded that I like capuchin monkeys because, let's be honest, that's one of the only kinds I'm aware of. She asked me if I knew where they were from, and I said Costa Rica, because I had, indeed, seen them there during our honeymoon. Then she asked me where squirrel monkeys were from. I didn't know. What about howler monkeys? I didn't know that either. She was overjoyed, holding the answers there in her hands, and not sharing them with me, as I was clearly undeserving.
How about Japanese macaques? She was pretty sure I didn't know where those were from! And she was getting an ego high, but I took her down a notch. "Um, I think they're probably from Japan, Nora."
She's suddenly aware of the whole wide world in a very real way, and of all the things she can do in it. We spent her spring break in Maine with my parents, and she decided she wanted to learn to knit. It was a difficult skill to teach, but she was a good student, and mostly got the hang of it. She wants to take piano lessons so badly, and when I told her that would be difficult because we don't have a piano, she wasn't deterred.
Then, this weekend, the inevitable, when she finally took a keen and sudden interest in the kids birding books and bird journal she'd accrued over the years. She was off and running, observing species in our backyard then noting their coloring, calls and habitat (for the house sparrow entry, she wisely entered: "sky.")
She and J had the nerd level in our house off the charts before too long and Nora's already scheduled their first birding trip for an upcoming Saturday. Needless to say, I'll skip it, but it's great to know that my husband finally has a willing partner for this particular hobby. Someone detail-oriented enough to truly get into it, and affectionately condescending enough to make fun of the rest of the family members when we can't tell a crow from a raven. If ravens even live here. Which I guess proves my point.
piece of pistachio cookie that I didn't realize was pistachio til after
My father and I participated in a little poem-off via email recently. It was over 30 degrees outside and I was feeling incredibly giddy, so I took to the keyboard to express my glee, and he quickly responded.
My mom declared me the winner of our first go round, which yielded a strong comeback from my dad. The back-and-forth is below. I've left his spelling and grammar as is, of course.
Lyrical combat. March madness. Leaving our gloves behind upon exiting the house. It's all turning around, guys. It's all getting good.
Temps are rising
Snow is melting
Cig butts, dog poop everywhere
I don't care!
Folks are spry
Spring is nigh.
Spring is here
Why aren't the birdies
Spring is here
And the doggies are purring
Of if u only loved me
We go go. Go go
Tiptoeing to Palermo.
my dad's comeback upon LOSING:
The poetry is judged
But we know it 's a crime
Cause mom favors Cara
All the time
Dad is the best
But mom won 't admit it
And so CarA is judged best
As Dad sheds tears
Into his vest
Such is the fate
As it alwAys has been
Of poets great
When judged by
my comeback to that:
The fight is fought
I'm the best
Dad is not.
he responded that he "hated it," and returned with:
Oh wicked Gods
Who cast me down
Upon the rocks
My guts spilt out
No more to roam
No more be free
My role as Seer
NoMore Is Mine
For Cara judged the best of
By Momma Girl
The Queen of Lies
About a month ago we all got the flu. Except for Gabriel, and the baby and Nora had really mild versions, thank god.
But J and I got hit hard. He came home from work one day complaining about body aches and fever, and I was like, "Ok, you probably have a mild to moderate cold and are being a little dramatic..." Then, BAM, the next day I realized, "My thighs hurt. Why do my thighs hurt? Was I doing squats that I don't remember?" Half an hour later I was on the couch under a wool blanket with my husband, and the chills. Pain everywhere.
We were each sick for about four days. We'd all gotten the flu shot, and while it didn't keep us from getting the dreaded disease, maybe it shortened the stint.
It was pretty awful without being downright terrible because we allowed ourselves to sit around and watch television all day. We also had to keep our children alive, but television all day is great no matter what.
What was worse, at least for me, was the aftermath. Once I felt mostly better, we had a mountain of laundry and a million other things to do. And while I was decidedly over the worst of it, my energy level had taken a nosedive. I felt like I couldn't get it back.
I spent the beginning of Adriana's life telling people that going from two to three children was much easier than going to one to two, and I meant it. I was tired and scatterbrained but also amazed at how well this adorable little infant fit into our already established schedule.
But once the winter hit it got tougher. The children - and dogs - were inside nearly all the time and our cozy home sometimes seemed like a cozy prison.
The kids have been taking swimming classes at the Y on Thursday afternoons and the therapy pool area, where classes are held, sauna-like in its warmth, has been a sweet refuge from the icy cold. The other day Nora asked if we could live there. This unforgiving season has been particularly unforgiving here in recent years.
Anyway, tough. But manageable. Until I got the flu, and all of a sudden it wasn't. I cried for the first time in so long, telling J that I had no idea what was wrong, except that getting sick had done me in. How was I ever going to get our family back into a schedule? There were so many snow days! And what the hell was happening with my career? To cope, I ate a lot of sugary things, which was not a good coping method. I felt like hair always looked weird.
When I was little and my family would return from vacation, we'd all have that odd feeling of being sad a fun trip was over but excited to be back home and just not sure how to adjust. My mom would say we were having "re-entry" problems. It was a useful way to describe a transient, mild sense of depression ignited by a sudden change in affairs.
I feel like the term applies in a lot of instances where life deals you a sudden shift, including this recent bout of illness. I do realize we are lucky to even have "re-entry" problems; that things have been great, or we've been on a wonderful trip...and then an illness hits or we come back home and it's hard to motivate.
To me, being unmotivated is one of the worst feelings. I imagine that that feeling, for an extended time, is what being truly depressed is like.
Extremely unmotivated is exactly how I felt after getting the flu. Feeling that bad seemed exponentially out of whack with the actual event, which shouldn't have been that big of a deal. But I understand how it happened: my body took a hit, and then I felt like I couldn't get my energy level back to normal, and then I felt like I couldn't take care of my family and then I didn't want to do anything at all, like especially load and unload the dishwasher. Again.
And I definitely didn't want to scale the snow piles and brace myself against the frigid temps to put my kids in the car, even to escape to tropical paradise at the Y.
Happily, this feeling has been lifting lately. I know part of it is simple healing. Maybe it shouldn't take like a month and a half to get over being sick, but sometimes when you're a mother and already run down, it does. Another part of it has been changing my surroundings a little, like buying bright flowers for the house and instead of listening to podcasts about, for instance, the heroin problem in middle America when I'm driving to pick up Gabriel from school, listening to upbeat music.
Then, after a couple weeks of cursing the state of Connecticut and it's weather patterns, I started to get excited about things again. I decided that prolonging the misery was not the best bet. J and the kids went for a long trek in the snowshoes they got for Christmas and I thought that perhaps the winter wasn't only hellish, just mostly.
We started researching new cars, having decided that this three-across-the-back-of-the-Outback was a neat experiment and is now over. Tomorrow we are going to look at a minivan. Maybe Sunday we'll go swimming. Next week my parents are coming to visit. Maybe we'll get them together with all the local family and have pizza. And one night they'll babysit and J and I will go out and drink an amazing bottle of wine.
So we march on. Now that I'm older I realize that sometimes it feels better to own a situation than to try and extrapolate the wisdom from it. Just admit things, and advance.
January and February have been rough. The flu floored me. I'm now the kind of person who wants a minivan.
These are the truths of the winter of 2015. I feel strong and giddy admitting them out loud, as they sparkle and glimmer against the dirty snow.
One day last summer when while up in Maine, we noticed our small dog Mina making a coughing sound.
Nothing Mina does is that shocking to J and I, despite the fact that it might be shocking to other people. Mina's burying a breadstick in the hamper? Fine. Eating the remains of a vodka-soaked watermelon that was left out at the pool after last night's festivities? She'll survive. Trying to murder a two-year-old with what's left of her tiny, ragged teeth? Normal.
But this cough. It went on and on. It sounded like what I imagine a dying goose would sound like. A raspy, continuous honk, and when my my annoyance finally gave way to worry, I decided we'd call the friendly veterinarians up in Boothbay. They told us they'd see us right away.
An x-ray revealed that Mina was in congestive heart failure; it's one of those conditions that, in people and animals alike, sounds incredibly scary, but is actually manageable. Mina's had heart issues for years, none of them dire, so this wasn't incredibly surprising. The doctor prescribed a twice-daily dose of Lasix and told us to schedule a visit with our vet once we were home to evaluate how she was doing.
Mina's 13 - not young, but she's a small dog and their lifespans are longer - and would be fine for years, they explained, if the medicine worked well.
Lasix is a diuretic. My general, non-medical understanding of the drug is that it helps remove fluid from the system, which is good when you have congestive heart failure and are retaining water. A natural side effect is that you have to pee approximately 7,000 times a day. This is the drug that we were now giving our dog.
I'm gonna tell you a little story about Mina, and J is not going to like it, but it's a story that deserves to be told.
Several months ago J was taking a shower. Those of you who know him know that my husband has bad eyesight. As in, when he wakes up in the morning, before he puts his glasses on, he has to hold the clock less than an inch from his face to see the numbers on it (my sight is better, but not much, and our children are doomed).
Anyway, he's in the shower, enjoying his normal, semi-blind shower routine, when he notices something on the shower floor. He thinks it's one of the kids' bath toys, or maybe a bar of soap, so he picks it up and holds it close to his face like the alarm clock, a mere millimeter from his eyes to facilitate sight recognition.
It was a dog poop. Mina had pooped in the bathtub, which was, by the way, not that surprising, because this dog, she has her moments. I mean, this was not one of her more delightful ones, but let's just say she's not a boring dog.
This is the kind of lifestyle we were dealing with before the Lasix. This is the animal we were now giving a drug, that was also going to, yes, save her life, but also up the ante in terms of her bathroom habits.
I imagine if you were heard your normal, loyal dog making death cough noises and had to put it on a diuretic you'd feel sorry for it. Not so with Mina. I knew she'd be fine and live forever, and that we were the ones in trouble. Because if there's one thing you want when you are about to give birth to your third child, it's a dog that urinates to no end. A dog that has:
- eaten its weight in taco meat
- gotten in the carseat with your kid when you are driving on the highway and there is nothing you can do about it, and by the way, she hates children
- routinely finished your coffee when you leave it unattended, because that is the quality of life she expects
and now was being given the impetus - and license - to desecrate our household. Our other dog, Cecilia? If she was on Lasix, she'd sit patiently by the door if she felt the urge, each and every time, waiting for someone to let her out. She'd die before she had an accident. That's what nice dogs do.
Mina's what I'd call a legendary dog. I adore her, but "nice" isn't the word that comes to mind. And so, despite our best efforts to get her outside countless times a day, she started peeing in our house on occasion.
This wasn't good for obvious reasons, but also because it turned our home into a carnival of paranoia. J took to dropping his 6'4" frame to the floor any time he felt even a modest dampness on the rug, which, let's face it, happens when you've got a family of five tramping in and out of the house all day.
I'd try to explain. "I think that might be from the kids' shoes? Because it's rainy today?" But he wouldn't listen, on all fours swaying his head from side to side like a metal detector. "I know it's Mina. I know it. It's everywhere!"
Let's be clear. She wasn't peeing everywhere. I meant it when I said she was doing it "on occasion," but still. I tried hard to come up with solutions and schedules but the truth is that her diagnosis coincided with the addition of a new family member, and it's hard to watch three young children while ensuring your already mischievous and now medicated dog - who, frankly, would much rather never go outside anyway in winter months - is emptying her bladder sufficiently.
It's also worth mentioning that while the medicine helps her, and we are very thankful for that, the cough hasn't disappeared. It's not constant or scary like it was initially, but it's there, often when I'm nursing the baby to sleep in the evening. Mina will nudge her nose into the cracked door, swing it open and enter the dark room with the "clackety clackety clackty" of her toenails on the hardwood, wheezing loudly and wagging her tail, while she looks at me, happily, like, "How about now? Is now a good time to hang out?"
The combination of it all breeds this constant level of distrust and I recently told J we had to get a grip (especially him, let's be honest). The most common refrain in our household has become, "Mina! What are you doing?!" When the kids are all asleep and we notice her slinking up the stairs to their quiet and unattended bedrooms. When she's circling the rug. When she's walking around, without purpose.
I tried looking up solutions to the dog-on-Lasix situation online, and found only heartfelt narratives regarding a beloved pet's heart deterioration. This wasn't the help I needed.
I read a few explanations of congestive heart failure and related issues that came with plenty of reassurance that even though the medicine made your dog urinate excessively, at least its quality of life would be extended over many years.
I read that to J. He replied, "What about us? What about our quality of life?"
Over the past few months we've made a concerted effort to deal with this new adventure, and like all of life's challenges, it is slowly but surely improving.
J (who has adopted a new calm in recent weeks, I don't know, maybe it's this book on meditation he's reading) brought home some puppy pads which I was totally opposed to at first but then conceded might be helpful on unusually busy days. He also replaced our bathmat - Mina's favorite spot for relieving herself - with a cedar mat that smells like a spa and is hard and uninviting for her bathroom dalliances.
Of course, I let the dogs out any chance I get and am trying to get better about long, regular walks. Mina stays in a crate when we're out of the house and while she's sleeping at night, and seems to like it, happily entering when I ask.
Last night, though, I went into our guest room, which has just been transformed into Adriana's room with the addition of a crib, and I noticed a lump moving around under the comforter on the bed. Mina, having heard me enter, stuck her little head out from underneath. "What are you doing?" I said, automatically, as though she'd answer.
Then I sat down next to her and stroked her silky, soft ears. I haven't done that in forever and I thought about how you always read studies that petting an animal helps lower blood pressure. She needed to go in her crate, but the room, in its new incarnation as nursery, was so peaceful and warm. Mina may be a troublemaker, but she's no idiot. She'd chosen the least turbulent spot in the house and gotten down to business unmaking the bed and turning it the perfect lounge for an aging Pomeranian/Miniature Pinscher mix.
I looked at her, and at my quietly sleeping baby in the crib. One just beginning life and one beginning life's last stretch. One with an actual diaper one. Another who could really use a diaper.
I left her to enjoy her cozy nest, until J found her anyway, there was no way in hell he was going to leave her free to roam the house all night.
At the door I whispered, "Behave yourself. Don't wake up the baby." Again, as though she understood. But you know what? This is Mina we're talking about. A legendary dog, who is still making waves. And I think that maybe she did.
You guys remember last winter and how much I enjoyed it?
After that abysmal trek through Connecticut's most notable season, I decided that there was no way it could happen again. That next year, I wouldn't sit inside getting all angsty about our five foot walk to the car three hours before it was scheduled to happen. That I would, somehow, enjoy winter.
And we're already here. While it's technically still fall, todays highs aren't projected to go any higher than 34 degrees. When I took the sleeping baby out of the car this morning, the frigid winds touched her face, she woke up with a start and I thought, "OH MY GOD it's happening aga--" before I stopped myself and remembered last year's pledge. "Don't do it," I thought. Don't go down that road. Certainly not before Thanksgiving, anyway. We've got plenty of weeks ahead. Let's start out on a moderately good note.
So, today, I'm writing about the things I like; things that distract me from the descent of winter, and activities to fill even the harshest days.
Serial. If you aren't listening to this addictive podcast (narrated by Sarah Koenig, of "This American Life"), I'm not really so sure we should be talking. Mostly because if we do talk, all I will talk about is the podcast, which investigates the 1999 murder of a high school girl in Baltimore. Did the jury wrongly convict the guy who is currently serving a life sentence for killing her? Well, did they?!?
Taylor Swift, "Shake It Off." Obviously.
The YMCA. Awhile back I toured a local Y branch - a new building with gorgeous facilities - and decided that at some point we'd join. I made good on that decision last week so that the kids can take swimming lessons and we can spend unplanned weekend days this winter in the pool. Nora and I visited Saturday during open swim hours and spent some time splashing around and chatting, mostly about how she thinks we need a dedicated YMCA bag where we'll keep our towels and suits and whatnot. She plans to decorate it herself with a "Y" and a heart. These are the delightful discussions I have with my six-year-old. I'm excited for more swimming dates.
The NPR "All Songs Considered" radio station on Apple TV. Because this is available via the simple "radio" option on our Apple TV (not the newer iTunes radio) this station plays what it plays without me having to vote songs up or down or provide any other input, which appeals to my sense of real fear regarding the ways people listen to music nowadays and how I'm never going to catch up. I had this on in the background last night and liked nearly everything I heard.
A cappuccino and something sweet. To thine own self be true and everything, and my own self is really enjoying this on an almost daily basis. So be it.
At some point during the early days of our relationship, I'm pretty sure I made a gleefully carefree statement to your father about "having a million children" with him. I think many young women do in the throes of early love (and perhaps after a few cocktails). I was in my twenties and everything was so easy. The future was bright, and complication-free.
Of course, as the years wore on, we grew up and our goals became more realistic. Not "a million" children, but we'd certainly have kids. Our life plan was never formalized, however, a trademark of our lifestyle I've come to truly appreciate. As a couple, we've never put deadlines on major life decisions. On minor items? Sure. Your dad especially is good at employing innovative productivity measures to ensure we RSVP to a wedding or declutter a drawer by a certain date.
But as far as the bigger picture, our style is more geared towards taking things as they come.
This can be frustrating sometimes, even when the situation is beyond our control. We've been in a state of limbo for a few years now as we contemplate the eventual end of your father's post at Yale, and wonder where he'll work next, wonder about my own career prospects and weigh the pros and cons of being open to relocating anywhere geographically, verses ensuring we live near family.
We're in our mid-thirties and I do like the question mark that accompanies our current life. It means we've got a lot to look forward to, and that keeps everything exciting.
But we're also ready to move on. I feel like it was all we thought about for a good long while.
For most of the past year, however, you've been a beautiful distraction.
I always imagined we'd have a third child. It's a strange decision. Everyone understands when you have one, and when you have your second, too, giving the first a little sibling.
When it comes to three, though, the reasoning gets tricky. You've got to be sure you're not doing it because you miss those snuggly newborn days, or because you're bored and want to make life a little more challenging. You've got to think about the future. Is this what you want your family to look like? Busy Thanksgiving dinners and family vacations. It's difficult to do when you're entwined in the trappings of early childhood, or at least it was for me.
Your father though - one of three himself - was good at envisioning the road ahead, and once we realized we both wanted to do this, it seemed silly to wait until we were settled in the next stage of life to have another child. Because who knew when that would be? Plus, as every parent knows, having a baby unsettles everything.
Then, suddenly - because suddenly seems to be the only way we know how to do this - I found myself tearfully telling your father in the parking lot outside his lab that I was pregnant. "How in the world could this happen so FAST?" It was like we'd barely made the decision before the decision was made for us. Your father told me we were "good at" reproducing. He seemed proud, which made me laugh, before I cried a little again.
Like I said, we take things as they come. So I calmed down, and soon my disbelief turned to gratefulness. We're very lucky.
I showed quickly the third time around, my body - "Oh, this again?" - familiar with the task at hand. I wore loose clothing so we could keep it a secret until the first trimester passed, wary of letting the kids know until we were on firm ground, and unwilling to tell certain family members (YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE) who'd been quick to spill the secret with the first two.
Then we started sharing the news. "We're crazy," we said, "we're having another!" Family members were overjoyed and friends wished us luck. We made a big deal out of telling your older sister and brother one morning, which turned out to be an amusing non-event. They didn't really care about the initial announcement. I think they were hungry.
But as the weeks passed and I got bigger, their excitement grew. After books at bedtime, they sang to you, adorable duets, often "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star." They'd occasionally yell at each other during the performance - someone had started too early or got the words wrong - and I figured it was good you got used to their dynamic early.
Your father and I got excited, too. Knowing with full certainty the third time around how little you'd need in your first few months - and also not having much space to give in the home we'd soon be outgrowing - we focused not on baby preparations but on house and yard improvements we'd been neglecting and other domestic projects that had been put off.
Your dad turned our guest room-slash-office into a "relaxing room" complete with gossip magazines and serene lighting, and ordered me to go there to get away from the kids every now and then. I was doing hard work just being pregnant, and should rest, he said.
It was a good thing he did because you took your time and I needed the extra energy. Not as bad as your brother, who was nine days overdue, you were just six, but still, six. While I can't say I was pleasant during that extra almost-week of pregnancy, I did have some memorably happy moments with your older siblings, realizing these were our last days together as a compact family of four.
I've told people that your labor and birth was "easy," but quickly edit that statement to explain that it was "easy compared to the other two."
Contractions began at home and we shuttled your brother and sister off to their grandparents' (they were slightly more excited about going there than they were about your imminent arrival, a fact I will enjoy sharing with them when they are older). A few hours into the process my water broke as I was heading up to the bathroom, prompting me to sit down quickly mid-stairway and announce, "Ohmygod I think my water just broke, OR I wet my pants! But I think my water broke! I don't KNOW, I don't know my body right now!"
Your father adopted a calm voice. "I think your water probably broke, ok? Let's go to the hospital."
Again, it was "easy compared to the other two." Once escorted to a delivery room, contractions got more intense, closer together. When I asked for an epidural, there was an hour or so that passed before the anesthesiologist arrived, got everything ready and I actually got one. During that hour felt like I was going to pass out, and tried to welcome your father's offerings of a cool towel on my neck, while simultaneously contemplating a violent rebuke of his advances.
You know, easy. In the grand scheme of things.
Once pain relief was in full effect, it was almost time to push. The labor lasted eight hours; not the quickest of deliveries, but quicker than last time, and much quicker than the time before that.
My body did what it was supposed to this time and so did you. When the doctor conducted his last check he announced that I was fully dilated and you were "right there." Your brother and sister, please note, were not at all "right there" when they should have been, and I'll be forever singing your praises as the easiest arrival of my three.
Then it happened fast. The room wasn't prepared! Push! Now don't push! Push again! Just fifteen minutes or so and the doctor ordered, "Grab the baby!" and I pulled you up onto my chest and shouted "Hi!" I loved the medical staff. I loved your father. I loved you. We were all laughing.
For a moment we forgot one important factor. My doctor lifted you off my chest and pronounced, "A girl!" I knew it all along.
The first night in the hospital was marked by a quiet and calm usually absent from our lives. We held you close, waiting until morning - and annoying everyone in the process - to decide on your name. Adriana, to honor our Italian heritage. Plus, think of the nicknames.
Life got crazier from there. Visitors the next day, then home to our family of five - five! - plus two dogs, whose presence sometimes seems to tip our household capacity over the threshold. Your father took a full week off work, taking care of your siblings while I spent time taking care of you. Despite there being more children, this was the easiest week of parenting I've ever experienced.
The school year began and our honeymoon period was over. We needed to get into a groove - making lunches and laying out clothes and leaving on time in the morning - which is hard to do with a newborn. The situation wasn't nearly as difficult as I'd predicted, however. You eased your way into our schedule and habits and a new lifestyle emerged.
That doesn't mean we aren't getting used to it all. We can no longer distract ourselves with preparations related to your arrival, and have begun thinking about the future again, a necessary but often daunting activity, made more difficult by sleeplessness and the challenges that accompany having children, like catching colds and doing homework.
But, as it's always been, your father and I are good at looking forward to the smaller events along the way: an upcoming road trip, a cousin's wedding, a bustling Thanksgiving with family and friends.
As for the future, it'll come, and I have no doubt it will be great. He may not be sure about it all at this particular juncture, but your father's always had this optimistic certainty about life. When I met him, circumstances weren't ideal for our potential relationship. "It's ok," he said. "I'll wait."
It's the most comforting quality in the world, and while it may disappear occasionally, it always resurfaces. Common stress is no match.
In our most energetic moments, your father and I have endless plans, realistic and not, but always inspiring. We could move to Florida and it would always be warm! We could build a modern house with environmentally friendly features! We could land our dream careers! We could have a million children!
In reality, just three. exactly as we planned, even though we didn't always know how that would play out. Having you has opened life up in an exhilarating way. We did it. What's next?
Getting together with your dad was the same for me. I found him, and everything else was easier because of that.
Over the past few weeks I've been treasuring nearly every moment of your existence, knowing how quickly this newborn stage will pass.
Every once in awhile, though, I find myself awake and overtired in the middle of the night with you, fretting that I won't have the strength to perform the most minor of items the next day, as I think mothers often do
It lasts barely a minute, however, before I have the obvious realization that your father's there, too, just a foot away. Asleep. Snoring maybe, but we are in this together, and everything is more than alright. We've been uncertain but enthusiastic, content but waiting for what's to come, just like we were waiting for you. We are still all of those things, but you're finally here.
And now, we are complete.
Remarkably, having a third child isn't as hard as I thought it would be. I was envisioning utter chaos around here - constant wailing and productivity of any sort grinding to a complete halt - but it hasn't been like that. At least not yet. There is still the potential, guys.
For now though, our life has been slightly crazier than having two children. That's pretty much all.
Going from non-parenthood to having Nora was one of the biggest shocks of my life. The jump to two children was notable for its seemingly illogical increase in physical work; we'd doubled the number of kids but it felt like an exponential difference.
Two to three, so far: not that big a deal. The difficult times of day are still difficult. The issues are still the same. It's just that now I sometimes have to hold a baby while we're working it out.
That doesn't mean being a mother to a newborn again isn't challenging. While taking care of Adriana is pure enjoyment - there's a true sense of relaxation in knowing the ropes - I'm still dealing with the physical and mental weirdness associated with that first month or two postpartum. Tired, loopy. Drained from caring for children and constant breastfeeding. My body isn't quite my own.
I feel particularly wiped out in the evening, naturally, and sometimes worry I won't be able to make it through the period from evening til the next morning's coffee. Nothing dismal. Just a quiet refusal. No more parenting. No talking to anybody. Nothing possible but coma-like sleep. Please. Just the sleep.
Then - wait a second - you know what? Turns out I'm just hungry. I eat something, anything, and am bolstered by an immediate rush of energy. I am able to get our newborn fed and down for the night. I am able to contemplate life beyond this strange version of life.
All of this is tempered, however, by my third-time-around knowledge that this will pass in the blink of an eye. So when people ask me how it's going, I answer, honestly, that it's wonderful. I am sleepy and forgetful, and our darling Gabriel is having a bit of a rough time adjusting to his new position as middle child (a subject that deserves its own blog post) but, OH MY GOD, that BABY. I could not love her more. All the difficulties I had the first time around - finding time to eat and shower, for instance - now seem fleeting and inconsequential.
Still, as mentioned, by the end of each day I'm exhausted. And the difference between collapsing in defeat and collapsing while remaining optimistic about days ahead often has to do with small details in the way I spend my day. It's easy to self-sabotage when you're already a little off. By eating cookies for dinner, let's say, which seems like an excellent idea when all I can think about is ingesting as many calories as I can, as quickly as possible.
Luckily, it's also easy to take a little better care of yourself, and doing so seems to be the key to doing well.
Parenting materials talk a lot about staying hydrated, resting when your baby rests, and having plenty of lean protein and vegetables. If you can do it, wonderful. But I find that even a semblance of conscientiousness goes a long way. Just a little common sense.
During a late afternoon walk with the baby and my dogs this weekend, those moments of inevitable concern I feel at day's end - knowing that bedtime is close, but not quite close enough - started to recede. The sun and moderate amount of exercise worked wonders.
I thought, "Hey, I should do this more often!" And that realization was followed by others, like that I shouldn't wait until I'm experiencing extreme thirst to drink a glass of water, that watching good television is a perfectly good way to relax and that a five-minute nap is worth a million times more than scanning social media outlets when there is a rare period of downtime.
I'm not going to get it right every day - no parent is - but trying goes a long way. Then, before I know it, I'm going to be feeling more myself. The baby will be able to entertain herself with toys for a bit every now and then and this period of life will be a hazy memory. In newfound moments of quiet self-reflection, I'm sure that at least for a moment or two, I'll miss it.
"Remember when the baby used to be in mommy's tummy? And mommy's tummy was big? And we used to sing to it?"
"She's not in there anymore. Now mommy's tummy is little again. Flat as a pancake."
"It's still big."
"Nora! It's not big!"
"Well. It's not flat as a pancake."
Adriana Grace McDonough. Born August 23, 2014 at 5:16 PM, 7 lbs, 11 oz, 21 and 3/4 inches.
She's our third, so obviously I'm just posting this now.
She is also tiny, soft and cuddly, and no one in our family can get enough of her.
Welcome come to the world, bambina.
One of the things my children are really good at lately is trashing the house in a matter of minutes. It's not that they're crazy kids and, actually, the process is often pretty imaginative. They're "building a house," or "doing a show" or "making a school."
The materials used are always rather diverse, though, meaning an interesting outcome for them, and the onset of stress for me. Throw pillows from the couch. Magazines. A blanket pulled off a bed upstairs. My driver's license, somehow. They make the kind of mess you can't simply sweep back into the appropriate bin or basket, because its' origins are house-wide. And, unlike the creation of such bold structures, the tidying up part takes forever.
I know I should make them clean it up themselves, and I do try but the truth is that J or I can take care of it literally 4,000 times faster than the two of them combined, so it's often a group effort.
I don't like it. So earlier this summer I was all, "Ok. We're not going to spend any more time indoors, ever." A noble plan but, obviously, unrealistic.
I have, however, done a pretty good job of getting the kids out of the house as much as possible. Nora's been at a few camps and outside plenty during the day, but I'm often with both kids in the late afternoon, trying to fill those couple hours before J gets home and dinner.
One of our favorite nearby places to go is Lighthouse Point Park. It's a gem for kids and parents alike since there's the beach, a playground and splash pad. It's so close to our house that we often head there on impulse, packing just a couple things.
It's a great activity for me, especially being pregnant, because I can pretty much relax on a bench while the kids do whatever they want.
Like jump off this stone statue. We can't decide if he's a dolphin or a seal.
They did this for nearly half an hour while I sat with my feet in the warm sand nearby, not once anticipating cleaning up the living room before bedtime that night, letting the bright sun sink into my shoulders, still rejoicing in the fact that there is, remarkably, warmth again after that long, frigid winter.
One of the interesting things about having another baby is comparing three, district pregnancy experiences. With Nora, my ankles were swollen and my ice cream cravings were fearsome events. Memories of being pregnant with Gabriel have sort of fallen through the cracks, but I do know that I continued attending rigorous exercise classes throughout and couldn't stop thinking about drinking delicious craft beers.
This baby, perhaps in preparation for what its actual life will be like, isn't getting much special consideration pre-birth, and, truthfully, that's made the pregnancy a positive experience in a lot of ways. I've been enjoying food, not worrying as much about what I should or should not be eating. I've been wearing the maternity clothes I like best, and that are the most comfortable.
I haven't really been thinking about the pregnancy as much in general, at least I didn't in the first seven or eight months (now it's pretty hard to ignore my sheer size and associated fatigue), and certainly haven't worried as much as I did when pregnant with the first two.
I wouldn't say I "forgot" about being pregnant altogether - I mean, come on - but there were plenty of days it fell to the back of my mind, and I didn't dwell on the physical feelings I was having the way I did in the past, especially when I was pregnant with Nora and could devote full afternoons to rhapsodizing on the threat and reality of constipation.
There just hasn't been time. In the same vein, I've gained much less weight with this baby. That's certainly due, in part, to dealing with my already existing children.
I've always hated this reasoning when celebrities use it in magazine interviews: "I'm keeping in shape running after my kids!" Oh, PLEASE. But finally, the third time around, it's true. Despite my penchant for baked goods to start the day, and still obsessed with ice cream, I don't have the energy to indulge quite as much; when confronted with the choice between sweets and lying down, I often choose the latter. Ok, like 50 percent of the time I choose the latter. Which I guess made a difference.
So, I've been staying active, not always by choice. I did, however, start this third pregnancy off strong in the exercise department, still attending classes and even doing a few exercise videos at home. I lifted weights. I kept running, until I got a few weeks into the second trimester and felt - no less than three steps into each run - that I had to pee IMMEDIATELY, no matter that I'd gone less than one minute prior, and also, that my uterus might crash through my pelvic floor. Unpleasant feelings, so I ditched the running in favor of more lying down.
And eventually, I ditched the rest. My days were too busy and I simply didn't feel like it. I had minimal guilt about this. See? Third pregnancies can be nice.
What I kept up with was long walks, away from our house towards the beach at Lighthouse Point, sometimes looping through the park and along the sand by the Long Island Sound, then home again. Two to two-and-half miles at a brisk pace while listening to loud music through my headphones.
I walked when I was pregnant with Nora, too, I remember, but it was always a more leisurely affair. My free hours were far more plentiful then, while expecting my first child. Leaving your house and responsibilities behind in a burst of gleeful energy is something you get very good at once the children actually arrive.
When I wrote "exercise regularly" as a summer goal, I'd been thinking about this departure from more intense endeavors and wondering if I could get back there, but in the weeks since my attitude has been more along the lines of, "Why bother?"
I kept up with the walks, though. I wish I was heading out every other day or so, but the reality is that I've probably averaged one good walk a week in the past few months.
Accepting "the reality," is what this pregnancy has been about, is the thing. Coming to grips with the fact that I am very tired around 4 p.m. and a short nap on the couch, while the children play and (hopefully) don't kill themselves is a much better idea than tackling whatever duty I'd meant to complete that afternoon.
Releasing myself from any guilt established eating quite a lot of M&Ms, after which I feel the need to ask J if that act could have possibly given the baby diabetes in the womb (and he responsibly replies, "Oh my God. No.")
Looking forward to quiet hours with a new baby once he or she finally arrives. Letting family and babysitters help. Not working, or thinking about work, considering opportunities or worrying about the lack thereof, until I'm ready.
The summer goal of exercising regularly? In my more aggressive past, no, I'm not sure I'd consider my actions to date a success.
But this summer is different. This summer, it's a yes.
It was here.
And it was wonderful.